Unmentionables Unearthed: Buying Bras

The humor and irony of writing this article on the purchasing practices of bras is not lost on me: this June marks exactly fifteen years since that fateful summer day when my doting, dutiful grandma bought me three training bras of differing colors and sizes and placed them on my bed… which I, in turn, threw on the kitchen floor in a hateful rage. I slammed my bedroom door and sent myself to bed without dinner. I was fighting a losing battle against Father Time and puberty. I was not going to wear those nasty body girdles. I was going to play outside on the trampoline in my overalls in all my asexual glory. Every day. Forever.

Well, that didn’t work out so well. That nasty body girdle did indeed become a part of my future. During my freshman year of college, I held down a job at Gap Body (you know, that area of the Gap where the music suddenly changes over to the spa-day playlist and there are never any boys ever). Every day, I measured at least three or four different ladies for their bra size. Would it shock you to know that most women are walking around wearing the wrong bra size? These weren’t 13-year-old girls, clueless about what the eff was going on under their overalls (do 13-year-olds still wear overalls? Was that just me? Whatever, irrelevant). These were grown ladies who ought to have known that they were wearing the wrong size! One day, I did a measurement on myself, only to find that I, too, was in the totally-wrong-size club! I remedied that right away with my sweet employee discount.

You can find these tutorials all over the interwebs, but here are a few basic tips that I learned that year for figuring out which bra is perfect for you (all DIY!) from sizing to style and everything in between:

  • First of all, find out what your size really is! Get a flexible measuring tape and wrap it around the area that’s just above your ribcage and just below your girls. If, for example, you measure in at 31”, your band size is typically 2-3 digits up from that number (so, a 34). Traditionally, you’re supposed to round up. Everyone should get measured! Wearing the right size feels great. Your clothes suddenly fit better, and you might discover a more defined waistline that wasn’t there before!
  • If you’ve got some mad spillage occurring over the edges or if the center isn’t lying flat against your sternum, your cup size is too small. If you notice the fabric / padding is lumpy and folding in on itself, it’s too big. If it feels nice and smooth when you put it on and you can’t really see the lines under your shirt, then well done! That’s the right cup size.
  • However, my next point is about to debunk everything I just said! Not all bras are created equal! I know, right? But, just like pants in a size 2 at one store fit like another store’s size 4, sometimes bras don’t all fit the same. Every bra fits each body a little bit differently, depending upon how much padding the thing has, how broad your shoulders are, how tall you are… everything! My advice is to try everything on, no matter what. Whenever ladies would come into the store and ask for something in their size, I’d always recommend that they try it on before walking out the door with it. Treat your bra size like a really solid ballpark figure. If the bra isn’t comfortable when you put it on, then try a slightly different size (see the next bullet point about “sister sizes”). I know this isn’t what Victoria’s Secret and the like would want me to say about this, but I think every lady can attest to this: sometimes, an article of clothing is just…well… made differently.  TRY. IT. ON.
  • So, like, another bonkers thing: bras are designed so that a 34C, for example, should fit you the same as a 36B. People call these “sister sizes”. The cup size is actually relative to the ribcage measurement. Technically, you ought to stick to your correct band size, but you can get away with it if you absolutely have to have that particular bra and they don’t have it in your size. It should probably fit fine, but as I said before, try that puppy on!
  • Now, something I had to recommend to the ladies over at good ol’ Gap Body was to put their shirts back on over the bras once they tried them on. For whatever reason, not everybody does this in the fitting room! But unless you’re making this purchase for one specific, frisky evening and you don’t ever plan to wear it under your clothing, you should seriously make sure you know what it looks like under your shirt. A lot of people don’t put their shirt back on! Why, I do not know! It’s worth noting that I was recently at a Victoria’s Secret location that had a t-shirt in each fitting room to encourage this practice! It was such a nice idea that I just had to give them a shoutout here.
  • Now, some practical advice as it relates to style: I don’t know about y’all, but not every day is lacy push-up sexytime day. I need a wide variety of comfort levels in my unmentionables drawer. American Apparel makes my absolute favorite everyday comfort bra (which is awesome for both casual wear and for working out). These come in a wide variety of styles and colors. I adore them, but I’ll admit they don’t provide a ton of support if you’re more endowed than I am! But the point is this: pick your favorite comfort poison, and buy a bunch in that same style. You’ll want an arsenal for everyday wear. Then, crank it up just a hair and buy a few that are flirty and fun, but aren’t necessarily bras you’d go jogging in. These should still be comfy and look great under your typical work clothes. There’s nothing weirder than wearing a super sexy bra under a top you’ve had on all day (perhaps in preparation for a big date or you just haven’t done laundry in a while) and it’s obvious that it’s just too much. So, continue to keep it simple in shape and scope. Lastly, get yourself one or two really high octane get-ups. (These, my friend, do not necessarily have to look appropriate under the shirt!)

So, what’d we learn? Measure thyself. Be wary of slight differences between designers. Don’t be afraid to be down with sister sizes. Put the shirt back on. And buy what makes you look and feel not only sexy, but comfy too! After all, we can’t wear overalls forever. Not that we should aspire to.

Photo by Sara Slattery

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